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We at Stewart Perry like where we live, and we like our neighbors. Donna Sue Groves believes you can express those feelings through her relatively newfound art—barn quilts.

“The barn quilts are public art that celebrates the place people call home. They make people feel good about themselves and where they live.” – Donna Sue Groves

We decided to give it a shot on our woodworking barn. We plan to paint several quilts over the coming year to reveal the unique diversity within our small community.

Ms. Groves originated the barn quilt project in Adams County, Ohio in 2001. Almost ten years later, this simplistic concept of painting a quilt square on an eight foot square piece of plywood and hanging it on a barn for others to enjoy is now called the National Quilt Barn Trail, spanning more than 20 states and British Columbia.

She feels this phenomenon sweeping the nation reveals something about our communities. “When we all become part of a team, we actually weave the fiber that brings people together,” she says. I agree wholeheartedly.

Our first effort could not be a better illustration of how teamwork builds a better community. Mitchell’s Place, our across the street neighbor, is a center specializing in services for children, young adults, and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  This past Saturday, several Stewart Perry and Mitchell’s Place families joined together to paint our first barn quilt. As I watched everyone, especially the children, painting the 128 triangles that would make up 64 squares to finally form one large quilt, I could not help but be reminded of how rewarding it is when everyone comes together to accomplish a common goal. Even more rewarding was the laughter of the children, the smiles from the parents and the fun had by all as we got to know our neighbors better.

The geometric design, created by our own Lynn Wilkins, symbolizes the colors representative of autism awareness. All of the pieces, painted by several and pulled together as one, reveal our individual perspectives with collective aspirations. Our hope, like Ms. Groves, is simply for all to enjoy.

The barn quilt will be hung this week end. Please let me know if you happen to drive by. We’d like to hear your thoughts.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

During his childhood breakfasts, George Barber probably saw wheels where other kids saw Cheerios. He’s had a lifelong fascination with vehicles equipped for power and speed.

The passion ran so deep that Barber, whose family built a legacy in the central Alabama dairy industry, decided to make a philanthropic investment in the community that raised him. Through his generous contributions, Barber Motorsports Park was completed just outside Birmingham in 2003.

The Barber Vintage Motorsports Park is considered the finest road course in North America. It’s also home to the Porsche Sports Driving School USA and the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. The 5-story museum elegantly displays the world’s best and largest motorcycle collection as well as the largest collection of Lotus racecars in the world.

I recently attended the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama located at the Park. I was in good company. Fans poured in from 40 states and many countries to watch the races. All ages were nestled under the pines along the 2.3-mile course on this glorious Alabama Sunday afternoon. They came to watch some of the world’s finest racers running at speeds up to 200 mph. They left an estimated $30 million economic boost for the Birmingham community.

I took a few things away from my time at the track, and thought I would share them. Maybe next year I’ll see you at the races.

The Pit is arguably as exciting or more so than the race. Before the starting flag, I wandered down to watch the Target professional tech team do their last minute precise prep and install their renowned driver Scott Dixon into the bright red Target car. Whether on the track or on the job, such finely coordinated teamwork gives me a zing.

Indy Racing is green power in action. It’s the first and only motor sport to be powered by 100 percent fuel grade ethanol.

Team sports are great “team building” for your crew. Many from Stewart Perry joined in for a memorable, fun day. We had such a great time together that we decided to make The Indy Grand Prix of Alabama a springtime tradition.

Passion is contagious. Mr. Barber turned his passion into a legacy. The result has and will enhance thousands of lives and bring significant economic benefit to his hometown. George Barber challenges us to follow big dreams and make them happen.

What’s your vision? How can you make it real?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

There’s no better way to bring friends, family or client relationships together than by savoring a good meal in each other’s company. That’s made my interest in the culinary world more personal.

An opportunity to explore the field presented itself last Friday afternoon. I was traveling back from one of our Pennsylvania projects and found myself within a short drive of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. (Many call it the CIA, but I find that’s easy to confuse with the Washington agency.)

The Institute is truly amazing. Founded in 1946, it began as a small cooking school for returning WWII veterans. It has now grown to a beautiful main campus overlooking the Hudson River and two additional campuses in Austin, Texas and the Napa Valley. Approximately 2,800 students from every state in the union and several foreign countries are attending our most respected college for chefs.

This place has earned its respected status. The Institute is supported by the likes of Marriott and Hilton. An on campus hall of fame includes Julia Child, James Beard and many other noteworthy American leaders in the field. I’m convinced the CIA put our country on the map as a world leader in culinary arts. Here’s how:

There are five 100 percent student-run restaurants on campus. The chefs, waiters and staff at American Bounty, Apple Pie Bakery, Escoffer (serving unbelievable French food, I am told), Ristorane Caterina de’Medici and the St. Andrews Café are all enrolled in the school, making for well-rounded graduates. Outside of the restaurants the public sees, there are about 40 professional kitchens and bakeshops along with computer labs, extensive culinary libraries and dormitories on campus. The result is the optimal learning environment for our future culinary artists.

What’s more, the CIA offers extensive educational short courses (2-4 days) for those of us non-professional cooks. It sounds like a great weekend getaway—the best way to enjoy the beautiful scenery overlooking the Hudson. I can’t wait to get back.

Since I know many travel to New York City for business on a regular basis, I couldn’t resist sharing the treasure I found in the CIA. Hyde Park is an hour or so north of the city, so it’s an easy side trip that I highly recommend. You can support the next generation of American all-star chefs and walk away with food for thought.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

I’ve often thought that most builders strive for one of two major goals—to make the most money possible or to build a legacy. I’m not sure about you, but as a business owner I’d like to think at least some of what we do will go beyond legacy status and have a lasting impact to help others. I was reminded of that aspiration on a business trip to New York last week.

When I travel for work and I have the time, I try to take side roads as opposed to the major thoroughfares. As I mentioned here, you can get the true flavor of a place and see so much more than the generic interstate view. When I left LaGuardia to head north for the real estate we own, it was one of those days I had a little extra time. I passed over the Whitestone Bridge and I decided that instead of turning north on I-95 (that infamous road from Maine to Miami), I would forge straight ahead on New York State’s Hutchinson Parkway, which becomes the Merritt Parkway when it crosses the Connecticut line.

My impromptu side road tour turned into a meaningful history lesson. The Hutchinson, or “Hutch” as it’s referred to, and the Merritt were part of America’s Work Projects Administration (WPA) days. When men and women could not find employment, the government created this much-needed program to put folks back to work. Jobs were not only in concrete, steel and roads, like the Hutch and the Merritt, but in the arts. We supported all kinds of writing, including songs and poetry. My personal favorite WPA supported art is photography. These images are available from the Library of Congress and we’ve bought several to hang around the office. They provide beautiful architectural references and a first hand look at our country rising above the Depression.

Beyond the infrastructure of the highway, WPA workers crafted a unique collection of bridges along The Hutch and The Merritt. I believe there are about 70 bridges on the Merritt and every one of them is unique. Each has a distinctive style and uses different combinations of concrete forms, stone and shape. This year marks the 75th anniversary of The Merritt—a project that created a 4-lane road that has served the Northeast for almost 8 decades. They also built a heritage of beauty intrinsic to the bridges that span the Hutch and the Merritt.

Looking back at a harsh economy that produced projects with such lasting function and form can’t help but remind me of the challenges we as business leaders, builders and Americans are facing today. It’s inspirational to remember that true legacies were built during our country’s darkest financial days. I’ve challenged myself to stop making excuses and live with legacy top of mind. What can I do now to leave a lasting impact or the future?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

MS-2As business leaders, we often get so immersed in our vocation that we forget all about our avocation.

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I took a trip to New England. I was driving through Freeport, Maine and happened to see a sign for the Thos. Moser shop in town. The name stood out from a conversation I had years earlier. I heard that as a college professor Tom had a love for teaching English, but his passion was design and furniture making. He left his established career to pursue his passion and started a business with little more than that. The story of his courage and his wife Mary’s support has always stayed with me, so when chance gave me the opportunity to explore his shop I took it.

Steve Wyman, who manages of the store (but in reality does much more), greeted me and thus began my education of the Thos. Moser company. Over the next several months, we stayed in touch and I ended up purchasing one of The New Gloucester Rockers for our conference room. The rocker was actually designed about 30 years ago and been a popular choice for consumers over the years. It was named for the town where the first Thos. Moser shop was located. Steve also took the time to tell me about the Customer in Residence program, which remained an aspiration for me.

I’ve always enjoyed woodworking, but have not had the time to do it. I should say I have not made the time to do it. Last month I did it. I spent a week in Auburn, making two New Gloucester Rocking Chairs. My son could have the one I purchased, but I really felt my daughters needed a rocking chair that their father had made for them.

I had a wonderful week staying in The Harraseeket Inn, a beautiful old inn in Freeport. I filled each day crafting my rocking chairs and my nights nursing the splinters and calluses I was getting from the work. I loved it. One night Mary and Tom Moser invited me to dine and spend some time at their Maine coast home. The quality of the products created at Thos. Moser is only surpassed by the caliber of the folks who have helped produce furniture for almost four decades now. All of them are genuine, hard-working people with an eye toward excellence.

I’d like to thank my new friends at Thos. Moser for a wonderful week for helping me create something special for my two daughters. While the time away from the office seemed impossible to schedule, I’m glad I made it a priority to explore an old hobby I’d shelved. Stimulating that part of my brain and taking a little down time brought me back to the office with fresh energy. I hope you’ll make your passion a priority too.

Check out more of my experience with Thos. Moser on my flickr photostream.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

Blog-#6---Quilt-by-Bettye-Kimbrell2While traveling to project sites, I like to take the side roads “the roads less traveled” instead of the interstate, so I can get a better feel for the communities we are impacting. Along the way, I have come to know and support many local craftsmen and artists. Their unique pieces give me a chance to talk about where we have worked, who we have met and what we stand for.

It seemed natural to integrate those treasures into our new corporate campus. Inside, there is a prominent alcove that sat empty for a long time because we could not find just the right piece of art to occupy the space. We thought a quilt might work, so we engaged the Birmingham Museum of Art, which has one of the largest collections of quilts in the U.S. The quilt needed to look nice, and speak to both the homegrown nature of our business and the environmentally friendly overtones of the new office. The quilt that is presently hanging was sewn by Mrs. Bettye Kimbrell who was a 2008 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.

We have two of Ms. Kimbrell’s quilts and another quilt from Mozell Benson who was also an NEA fellow as well, and the recipient of a home from the Rural Studio art/architecture program at Auburn University.

Our goal is to have 5-6 quilts in the collection and rotate them periodically. The quilts better the lives of the people in the building and also help support the our artists.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.</h6